Haas CNC Racing, often a Sprint Cup Series backmarker, has become one of NASCAR's power players relatively overnight since Tony Stewart announced he would join the team in 2009.
To be renamed Stewart-Haas Racing, the organization will field Office Depot Chevrolets for Stewart and one other car. According to sources, Ryan Newman will fill the driver's seat for that car, with Burger King sponsorship.
The eminent arrival of Stewart and Newman has to make Scott Riggs feel a little uncertain.
For those wondering who Riggs is, he is Haas CNC's lone current full-time driver. Behind the wheel of the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet, he has struggled this season, failing to qualify for two races and currently ranking 35th in points.
It's not hard to fathom that some folks who follow the sport may need to think for a second when asked about Riggs.
It's really unfortunate that a driver such as Riggs may not get the ability to realize his potential in Sprint Cup.
With five career wins in the Craftsman Truck Series, and four in the Nationwide Series between the 2001 and 2003 seasons, Riggs certainly earned his place in Sprint Cup, spending two seasons at MB2 Motorsports.
Unlike many development drivers who run for big-money teams in smaller series today, Riggs used strong finishes with independent teams Ultra Motorsports and ppc Racing to earn his ride at MB2.
After two seasons of driving the No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet, Riggs, his sponsor, and his car number left MB2 to join Evernham Motorsports as its third team in 2006. While he missed the season-opening Daytona 500, Riggs had a remarkable season for a brand new team, finishing 20th in points—higher than past series champions Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett.
Unfortunately, Evernham could not keep up its 2006 performance levels in 2007, as incorrect testing information inhibited the team's performance. Riggs began missing races, seven due to DNQs, and was replaced for the final two races of the season by incoming replacement Patrick Carpentier.
Riggs joined Haas CNC at the start of the 2008 season, back with a car in the top 35 in owners' points and a guaranteed starting spot. However, the car fell out of the top 35 due to massive penalties accrued due to wing-bracket violations, and Riggs missed his first race in the No. 66 at Daytona last weekend. (He also failed to qualify for the Infineon race in the No. 70, while road course specialist Max Papis handled duties in the No. 66 car.)
With Stewart, and likely Newman, joining the team at the end of next season, Riggs' position is obviously in jeopardy. If Newman signs on for sure, the question then becomes where Riggs will land in 2009.
Riggs' options may include drives for Dale Earnhardt Inc. (the No. 1 if Martin Truex Jr. leaves), Penske Racing (the No. 12 in place of Newman), Richard Childress Racing (the new No. 33 team), or Chip Ganassi Racing (the No. 41 if Reed Sorenson moves on).
Unfortunately for Riggs, it appears that more prominent drivers may be filling all of those seats next year. It is unlikely that Stewart-Haas will expand to three cars in 2009, meaning Riggs may be out of a ride, unless Bill Davis Racing finds the funding to expand to two cars and Riggs and State Water Heaters both make the jump to the Toyota stalwarts.
What's truly sad about Scott Riggs' situation is that his future should have been secure at Evernham (now Gillett Evernham Motorsports). Riggs was a casualty of the team's errors in the research and development department, which not only held him back, but Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler as well.
Due to these errors, longtime sponsor Valvoline lost interest in supporting Riggs, and pushed for Carpentier's installation as the new driver of the No. 10 Dodge.
Thus, Riggs finds himself at Haas CNC, going from one bad situation (a back of the pack car with relatively limited sponsorship) to a worse one (probably no future with the team).
Here's to hoping that Scott Riggs can find himself a team willing to commit its resources to putting him towards the front of the pack. His efforts in NASCAR's feeder series have proven that the North Carolina native has plenty of driving talent.
The question is whether a team is willing to take a chance on letting Riggs use that talent to bring them to victory lane.